BEE PLUS Here's an eight-letter word for the fastest-growing form
of competition on television: S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G. Fox has
green-lighted Celebrity Spelling Bee, a two-hour special
featuring celebrities--including as yet unnamed
athletes--competing in a traditional bee. "Spelling can be even
bigger than poker," says Mike Darnell, Fox's head of reality
programming who is responsible for ratings bonanzas such as
Celebrity Boxing and Joe Millionaire. "There's great drama, and
people can relate because everyone has taken a spelling test."
Darnell isn't the only TV exec making a beeline for the genre.
Weakest Link producer Phil Gurin is shopping The Great American
Spell-Off, a weekly show in which adults compete in a bee and get
profiled behind the scenes--sort of a grown-up version of this
year's documentary hit Spellbound. Spelling has gone mainstream
partly because ESPN has aired the Scripps-Howard National
Spelling Bee finals live since '94 and ratings have steadily
increased. Last May's finals drew 656,000 households, and ESPN
estimates that nearly 11 million watched some of the coverage.
OSCAR BUZZ Five-time boxing champion and 1992 Olympic gold
medalist Oscar de la Hoya will debut as an analyst for both the
Spanish-language network Telemundo and MSNBC during the 2004
Games. "He's a huge draw," says Jorge Hidalgo, executive vice
president of Telemundo sports. "If you break down the popularity
of sports among our viewers, it's soccer, soccer, boxing, boxing
and everything else." Renowned soccer announcer Andres
(Gooooooal!) Cantor will be a Telemundo anchor for its Olympic
soccer coverage. And fear not: Cantor will also call the action.
Says Hidalgo, "You kidding me? I'd have a riot on my hands if I
didn't let Andres do soccer."